Sunday, June 28, 2015

REVIEW 338: MISS TANAKPUR HAAZIR HO

Release date:
June 26, 2015
Director:
Vinod Kapri
Cast:


Language:
Annu Kapoor, Ravi Kishen, Om Puri, Sanjai Mishra, Rahul Bagga, Hrishita Bhatt
Hindi


Just reading this film’s credit rolls is enough to bring on an attack of the giggles. When they’re at their best, and given a good script, the four leading men of Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho have killer comic timing. As luck would have it, the writing and acting hit the bull’s eye all the way up to the interval. The result is unmitigated comedy in the foreground without being insensitive to the tragedy in the background, of a young woman forced into marriage with an old man who gives vent to his frustration over his sexual impotence by physically abusing her.

Striking that balance is an art, and writer-director Vinod Kapri has a steady hand on his brush in the first hour.

The woman in question is Maya (Hrishita Bhatt), wife of the ageing and corrupt pradhaan Sualaal Gandass (Annu Kapoor). Maya finds solace in the arms of a village youth called Arjun (Rahul Bagga) whenever her husband is away from home. The wily Gandass and his sidekick (Ravi Kishen) have a third cohort in their dubious games: the local holy man (Sanjai Mishra).

So far so good. The reason why the film works up to this point is that while it does evoke laughter in the first half, it does not seek to do so at Maya or Arjun’s expense. The gags are derived from mocking the villains or having a chuckle at the eccentricities of the locals.

Around interval time though, a chain of circumstances leads to Arjun being falsely accused of raping a buffalo, and that’s when it all goes downhill. From that moment on, as the situation turns grim all around, Vinod seems unsure about what tone to go with. He appears to want to stick to comedy, but does not have the finesse to handle such a grave subject through that genre.

Worse, the film seems unsure about whether bestiality is a grave subject at all. It even gets confused about what the issue at hand is. I thought the combined themes were spousal abuse and systemic corruption until a voiceover in the end announced that Miss Tanakpur was a film about the frivolous cases that crowd Indian courts. A fabricated charge of bestiality was a poor example to pick then, since there is little awareness about this crime in India and a majority of the audience would probably not have a position on it. As a consequence, the impression created – irrespective of the intent – is that the very accusation of a man raping a buffalo is a joke.

Does Team Tanakpur believe that such sexual perversion does not exist or is bestiality not to be deemed a perversion at all? Or do they think human beings should be allowed to do as they please with animals?

It is clear that the film does not want to make light of domestic violence or make wisecracks about rape in general. Its position on bestiality though is less clear, and it does seem at times to be amused by the phenomenon. Sadly, it ends  up trivialising both. Having enjoyed the first half of Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho very much, it feels bad to say this, but methinks there is a special place in hell reserved for folk who make light of sexual crimes.

I’m not turning this review into a lesson on bestiality. Suffice it to say that having sex with animals is outlawed in some parts of the world (India included) while others have debated the matter. Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho could have sparked off a discussion on the subject, but in its confusion about the tone it should take and in the absence of a commitment to the cause it seems to be espousing, it ends up being a lukewarm film.

Let’s be clear about this: it is both possible and acceptable to use humour to throw light on the most sombre of themes. Doing so, however, requires incredible skill of the kind Roberto Benigni displayed when he set an entire comedy in a concentration camp in Italy during World War II, in his lovely multiple-award-winning 1997 film Life Is Beautiful. More recently, (though not on a par with LIB) Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg used laughter to take the mickey out of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in the highly controversial The Interview last year.

Step 1 towards pulling off such a blend is conviction. Step 2 is courage of conviction. Step 3 is great writing abilities. Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho falters at Step 1. What a lost opportunity it is.

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating (India):

U
Running time:
141 minutes


Photograph courtesy: Effective Communication

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